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Large American donors have a long-standing and tense relationship with the general public; the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative debate has a truly American pedigree.

"My Chronicle piece dealt with the need to balance both an appreciation of the dangers big philanthropy poses to a democracy and its promise to achieve real, lasting social good. I appreciate how hard that balance is to strike. But my research into the federal charter controversy at the turn of the last century convinced me of how essential it is as well.

"I’ve always considered one of the heroes of that story to be Edward Devine, who was at the time a leader of the New York Charity Organization Society and one of the founders of the social work profession. In 1910, Rockefeller’s request for a federal charter for his new general-purpose foundation, which the Standard Oil founder would soon endow with gifts of $100 million, met with a chorus of opposition. Rockefeller, a particularly ruthless entrepreneur, was one of the most hated men in America, and some resisted giving a federal imprimatur to his philanthropic efforts, which were assumed to be a ruse to distract from his nefarious business practices. Others worried that the Foundation would amass immense power and would soon be able to counter the federal government itself."--Benjamin Soskis, HistPhil.org

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